“Genii Loci” – The Photographic Work of Karen Knorr

genii loci – The Photographic Work of Karen Knorr,

 Campany, D, et al (2002), Black Dog Publishing Ltd, London.

I hadn’t heard of Karen Knorr until my husband brought to my attention a short piece in one of our photography magazines because he thought this was about one of the staff of OCA.  However, she is Professor of Photography at the University of the Creative Arts in Farnham and had won the Pilar Citoler International Prize for Contemporary Photography (and 15,00 Euros).  The photograph which won the prize, ‘Flight to Freedom’ was one of a series of pictures featuring animals in northern India.

I live near to Farnham (in Surrey) and had originally looked at the Farnham University website when I was thinking of doing a photography course.  Out of curiosity,  I decided to look up the information about Karen Knorr , both on the University website and her own (http://www.karenknorr.com/about/). Her photography looked very interesting and I ordered a book from Amazon.  I have been intending to record my thoughts on the book for a few months now and a visit yesterday to the Degree Exhibition at Farnham University has prompted me.

Here is the synopsis which I’m including because it gives the information in a much better way than I ever could:-

 “Including essays and an interview with Karen Knorr, this extensively illustrated text is a comprehensive overview of the photographer’s work from the 1990s to 2002. Knorr’s photographs explore with wit and humour the patronage and heritage that informs our ideas of art and national identity, with images taken at historical art collections and stately homes, and new developments using sound, installation and video. Knorr has been making photographs since the early 1980s, using a documentary style that recalls earlier traditions of portraiture and painting”


There are three main sections in the book which are preceded by a scholarly overview  from one of the three authors.  In the first section Antonio Guzman begins with an analysis of the Connoisseurs series of photographs (1986-1989) which he believes marks the distinction between the origins of Knorr’s work and her approach today. In Connoisseurs she, ”….abandons the abstract formalism of black and white photography and undertakes the exclusive practice of colour” (p.9), with a further change of format and object.  The square format replaces the rectangular and the work is referenced to painting rather than printed photography of published image. Overall,  the phraseology is reverential in tone and I have to admit that, at this stage of my photographic journey, I found it rather hard to read.  I still do!

What seems clear though is that Knorr is a very literate photographer and she uses classical allegory and metaphor in her work.  The prose was illustrated at various points with almost thumbprint images on the whole and it was with relief that I moved on to look at the full page colour photographs which are rich and striking

I’m not going to describe all of them, just the ones which particularly struck me and where possible will give links.

The Analysis of Beauty:

Depicts two men in a salon/gallery, surrounded by ornate pictures and looking at them through telescopes.


to me this is about the scrutiny of works of art, putting them under the microscope to determine their constituents and meanings. It also  reminded me of how often photographers (meaning me!) go round with their camera in front of their noses when they are surrounded by beautiful scenes which are just waiting to be absorbed.

There is also a whole series of images which include stuffed animals in stately houses as if they are visitors.

Where Have All the Sparrows Gone?

Is this a comment on the way we preserve our art treasures but ignore endangered species?


Having looked at the book again, I still find the commentary almost akin to hagiography and, in many respects, it makes me feel distanced from the images. However, the photographs are beautifully presented and some of them are of ‘ordinary’ subjects, such as dogs. Karen Knoor obviously has the prestige which enables her to set up the artistic images in stately surroundings and it was interesting for me to note yesterday, her other working environment – a suburban University in a small town in Surrey.

12th June 2011


Campany, D, et al , genii loci – The Photographic Work of Karen Knorr       2002, Black Dog Publishing Ltd, London.




4 Comments on ““Genii Loci” – The Photographic Work of Karen Knorr”

  1. Mary says:

    Hi Catherine, enjoyed reading your post and feel I’ve seen a photograph of Knorr’s before, based on the style of the “Analysis of Beauty” photograph. There was one of the back of a young man looking at two landscapes in ornate frames. It was in a book called “Landscape and Western Art” (OUP), by (I think) Malcolm Andrews, in the first chapter or pretty early on. I’m betting it’s the same person and will let you know when I find the book (right or wrong).

  2. Thanks Mary, That’ll be interesting.

  3. Mary says:

    Hi Catherine, right, whew! Luckily the book was not in a box, found it this morning. It was a photo by Karen Knorr, “Pleasures of the Imagination: Connoisseurs”, 1986, Ciba chrome print, 115 x 115 cm. Amazing how recognisable her style is from seeing just one other picture. It’s actually a young man looking at one painting, not two, on an olive green wall. Fascinating!

    • Yes – it’s in my book. Lots of different shades of green and very structured. Every page in the book has a different coloured background which co-ordinates with the colours in the photographs as well Her website is worth a look also.

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